Marek Edelman was born on the 31 December 1921 in Warsaw and was a member of Zukunft, the youth movement, affiliated with the Jewish Socialist party – the Bund and he was one of the activists in the Warsaw ghetto. He worked in the Bersohn and Bauman Children’s Hospital.
When the Germans started the mass deportations from Warsaw on the 22 July 1942, the Bund lost a number of members during the Aktion and Edelman described as such; We remain a tiny remnant. We do what we can, but that’s not very much. We want to save whatever possible at any price. We arrange for people to work in German enterprises, which – it was believed at the time – were the best. Slowly we lost contact with almost everyone. There remained only one fairly large group of members – about twenty to twenty-five people at the “Brushmakers” on Franciszkanska Street. When the standing of the young people in the Underground movement gained in strength, Edelman became a member of the Bund’s central institutions. In November 1942 he joined the ZOB (Jewish Fighting Organisation) and shortly afterwards was appointed as his movements representative in the organisations command. Edelman described how the Bund joined the ZOB;
At the beginning of October 1942, discussions were held between the heads of the central committee and the command of the pioneering fighting organisation regarding the establishment of a joint organisation. The issue had been discussed at length among our members and was finally decided at a meeting of the Warsaw activists on October 15. We decided to form a joint fighting organisation with the aim of putting up armed resistance to the Germans in the event that the liquidation Aktion is resumed. We understand that only co-ordinated work and a supreme joint effort will yield any results whatsoever.
In the Warsaw ghetto uprising of April 1943 Edelman was at first in charge of the “Brushmakers” area in the ghetto; following the withdrawal of the ZOB forces, Edelman and his men joined the group centred on 30 Franciszkanska Street. Edelman was among the last group of fighters to hold out in the ZOB headquarters at 18 Mila Street and he then crossed over to the Aryan side of Warsaw by way of the sewers, on the 10 May 1943. Edelman later described his journey through the sewers; All night we walked through the sewers, sometimes crawling, passage-ways booby-trapped with hand grenades, let gas into the mains, in a sewer where water reached our lips, we waited 48 hours to get out. Finally two trucks halted at the trapdoor, in broad daylight, with almost no cover, the trapdoor opened and one after another, with the stunned crowd looking on, armed Jews appeared from the depths of a black hole.
In August 1944 Marek Edelman served in the ranks of the ZOB Company that took part in the Polish uprising in Warsaw. After the war, in 1945, Edelman published ‘The Bunds Role in the Defence of the Warsaw Ghetto,’ in Polish and Yiddish. He also published ‘The Ghetto Fights,’ in 1946, a short history of the uprising, in Polish, Yiddish and English. Edelman studied medicine at the Medical University in Lodz and practiced it, in Poland, and from the early 1980’s he was active in the Solidarity Trade Union movement. On the 17 April 1988 he was awarded with the Order of the White Eagle, one of Poland’s highest distinctions. Marek Edelman passed away on 2 October 2009 and he was buried in Warsaw with full military honours on 9 October 2009.
Encyclopaedia of the HolocaustYisrael Gutman, The Jews of Warsaw 1939 -1943, The Harvester Press, Brighton, England 1982
Barbara Engelking, Jacek Leociak, The Warsaw Ghetto – A Guide to the Perished City, published by Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2009
Wiener Library, London
Photograph – Yad Vashem Archive
© Holocaust Historical Society 2014